Thursday, December 07, 2017

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

I was entranced by Moonglow, the novel by Michael Chabon in which he supposedly recounts his own grandfather's life. It's a gently told, funny, awful tale of love and loss, continually surprising with its wit and heart.

Perhaps it struck a particular chord because earlier this year I helped my parents finish a memoir of family history - how they met, how their parents met, stuff they could remember. There's the same haphazardness and chance encounter, the same brushes with Big Moments in History, and the cold pang for people now gone.

But Chabon's grandfather is also a keen space nerd, and how that weaves through his life and what it means to him is compelling. A running thread is his pursuit of Wernher von Braun during the Second World War, and his horror at then seeing this Nazi officer at the head of the American space programme. What could so easily be preachy is resolved in a nuanced way full of complex emotion, tying in to what we uncover about the wartime experinece of Chabon's grandmother. Then there's a funny bit about a cat.

Footnotes add or correct details from the grandfather's remembrance, and the following one struck me hard. The Saturn V rocket that took people to the Moon, was,
"still, over four decades after flying its last mission, the only vehicle ever built capable of carrying human beings beyond a low earth orbit."
Michael Chabon, Moonglow, p. 249.
See also:

Monday, November 27, 2017

"The Man With Two Brains" in the Lancet Psychiatry

"Me and my brain" is a piece I've written about 1983 comedy The Man with Two Brains, and the history of brain transplants in fiction more generally, for the new issue of the Lancet Psychiatry (vol. 4, no. 12, December 2017). You need to be a subscriber to read the whole thing, but the Lancet website boasts the opening paragraph:
"The Man with Two Brains (1983), the classic comedy starring Steve Martin, is about a love triangle. Beautiful but wicked Dolores Benedict (Kathleen Turner) is hit by a car driven by neurosurgeon Michael Hfuhruhurr (Martin). He saves her life and falls for her but, once married, Dolores delights in tormenting him. Then Michael meets someone else. He has a lot in common with nice Anne Uumellmahaye (voiced by Sissy Spacek)—not least an unpronounceable surname. The only snag is that she's a brain in a jar."
And the Lancet Psychiatry tweeted the following tantalising excerpt:
"Despite the jokes, fun, and adventure, there's something deeply unsettling about the idea of brain and mind transplants. It plays on anxieties about the distinction between our physical body and our identity, and the linked fear of our bodies failing us through accident, illness, or decrepitude, redefining who we are. It speaks to anxieties about our own uniqueness and autonomy, and the threat of personal annihilation. And then there's the ongoing concern of how scientific and economic change threatens our personal control. It's ripe for further exploration, not just in research but in comedy and horror, because it's a subject best met with nervous laughter."

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Grim's Dyke house in Doctor Who and other film and TV

Earlier this year, the Dr took me to stay at Grim's Dyke house – now a hotel – in Harrow Weald, which was used as a location in episodes 3, 4 and 5 of the 1967 Doctor Who story The Evil of the Daleks. What follows is an expanded version of material from my Black Archive book examining that story, plus photos from our visit...

It was production assistant Tim Combe who found the house. "I was living in Richmond when I got married in 1965," he told me. "But we were thinking of moving to north London, and I did quite a lot of looking round houses, going to estate agents and generally just driving around. I think I first saw it then."

The BBC's Written Archive Centre holds six production files for The Evil of the Daleks, and the first of these - file T5/2,531/1 - shows that Combe visited Grim's Dyke again on 6 April 1967 to check its potential for Doctor Who. That was also when he spotted the adjacent field used for the scenes of Kennedy snooping on the Doctor in episode 1; he learned who owned that field by asking in the local pub. On 7 April, Rae Pickthrone, an assistant in the BBC's television finance department, agreed a fee of £120 for the use of Grim's Dyke with Mr Sewell, the engineer and surveyor for the Borough of Harrow, covering the location filming that would take place at Grim's Dyke on 20, 24 and 25 April.











Grim's Dyke was built between 1870 and 1872, designed by architect Norman Shaw for the painter Frederick Goodall. Shaw had already made his name pioneering a particular style of old English house with a Gothic influence – evident in Grim's Dyke, especially in distinctive Gothic arches that can be seen in the photographs above.

After the Goodall family sold the house in 1880, it passed to the banker Robert Herriot and then to the librettist WS Gilbert – of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. He had a boating lake constructed there, in which he swam every day – and in which he died in 1911. His widow lived on at Grim's Dyke until her death in 1936, after which the house was put up for auction.

"Officially, whatever role the house played in the 2nd World War is classified, and not due for release until the 2040s," says the Grim's Dyke hotel website. So, fittingly for Doctor Who, it's a house of secrets. After the war, the house was used as a rehabilitation centre for men suffering from tuberculosis; that centre closed in 1963, and when Tim Combe arrived in 1967 the house was out of use.

That made it perfect for filming; the sources in what follows are IMDB unless otherwise listed. A year after the rehabilitation centre closed, young film-makers Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo used Grim's Dyke as a location in their war film It Happened Here (1965), as detailed on Reel Streets.

In November 1965 it was used for the colour pilot episode of the adventure series The Saint, The Russian Prisoner, broadcast by ATV London and ATV Midlands in October 1966. The same series returned to the house for The Fiction Makers, filmed from the week of 20 May to the week of 17 June 1966 but not broadcast on TV until December 1968 (having failed to secure a release as a movie). [Source: p. 6 of Andrew Pixley's notes for The Saint: Original Soundtrack.]

A month after Doctor Who filmed at Grim's Dyke, The Champions used the house as a location in The Mission, filmed during the weeks of 24 and 31 May 1967 – the first of four episodes filmed there. A month later, during the week of 21 June, the same series filmed The Experiment with Grim's Dyke as one of the locations. In October, Grim's Dyke was used for The Body Snatchers and in January/February 1968, it was used in The Final Countdown. [Source: Michael Richardson's production notes for The Champions DVD, Network, 2006.]

Grim's Dyke was a location used in the horror film The Blood Beast Terror, which began filming on 7 August 1967, and The Devil Rides Out, which began filming on 28 August the same year.

Filming began on The Curse of the Crimson Altar on 22 January 1968 [Source: Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic, p. 178.] It's thought that this was the last film that Boris Karloff worked on (though not the last to be released). "During some rain-soaked sequences [while filming at Grim's Dyke]. Karloff contracted pneumonia, which can hardly have helped alleviate the emphysema which, on 2 February 1969, would kill him. " [Rigby, p. 179.]

As well as horror films, Grim's Dyke appears in the Academy award winning drama The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which began filming on 29 April 1968.

On 13 June 1968, a 2nd unit crew from The Avengers shot material for the episode Game at Grim's Dyke. [Source: Michael Richardson's Bowler Hats and Kinky Boots, p. 660.] Also in June 1968, filming took place on But What a Sweet Little Room, an episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and that series returned on 12 August to film material for You Can Always Find a Fall Guy.

From 21 October to 7 November 1968, filming took place on The Killing Bottle, an episode of Journey to the Unknown. The series Department S filmed a Grim's Dyke in April 1969 for the episode The Bones of Byrom Blain. [Source: Michael Richardson's production notes on the Department S DVD set.]

Another horror film, Cry of the Banshee filmed from 20 October 1969. The comedy Futtocks End seems to have been at Grim's Dyke later in the year. The murder mystery Endless Night began filming on 7 June 1971, the TV series The Adventurer began filming on The Case of the Poisoned Pawn in autumn 1972, and in November filming was conducted on K is for Killing, an episode of Thriller.

It's worth listing these productions because they almost all use the house in a very different way to Doctor Who. Most are set in the present, though Cry of the Banshee is set in Elizabethan England, The Blood Beast Terror in the 19th century, The Devil Rides Out in the 1920s and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in the 1930s. The house adds grandeur and elegance. Usually, it has been dressed and lit to appear at its best, but looking carefully we can see damage and wear: it's a faded grandeur, suggesting decay and decadence in the horror films, and in both The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Futtocks End that the past – its bricks and its values – struggles to survive in the modern world.

In Doctor Who, the state of the house suggests something ironic. Just as the first episode and half of The Evil of the Daleks has genuine antiques that are nevertheless brand new, something similar is going on with the house. As it appears in the story, it is old and decayed, but – given events are set in 1866 – it ought to be brand new...


Thursday, November 09, 2017

Worthing Wormhole

On Saturday, I'll be a guest at Worthing Wormhole, a sci-fi, fantasy and steampunk event starting at 10 am in the Assembly Hall, Worthing. I'll be talking about the science in Doctor Who and signing books.

Full details - and tickets - from the Worthing Wormhole website.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Essential Doctor Who - Time Travel

From my munificent masters at Doctor Who Magazine comes The Essential Doctor Who - Time Travel, available in shops and for download.

I've written five pieces for it:

ORIGINAL EVIL
How 1967 story The Evil of the Daleks might have been very different, as I pick over the original outline (published here for the first time) and speak to the woman originally cast as Victoria - all taken from my Black Archive book on The Evil of the Daleks.

THE AGONY OF PERPETUITY
Actor David Collings discusses how he utterly terrified me as a child as the alien Mawdryn in 1983 story Mawdryn Undead.

HOLMES ON HOLMES
Using archive interviews with the great Robert Holmes to explore 1985 story The Two Doctors - in his own words.

CREATING ANGELS
I journey to the church in Suffolk that inspired the Weeping Angels, first seen in 2007 story, Blink.

WE OUGHT TO BE DOING THINGS
When Doctor Who began it was impossible to alter the past - so what changed?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

FLAME - a TV pilot

Last week, the production company Visionality announced a TV pilot I've been working on which is quite exciting.

"Children's animated sci-fi news! We are delighted to confirm that the voice track to FLAME's pilot was recorded on 19th October at Fitzrovia Post in London. The audio will be complimented with a full 22 minute animatic during the autumn and we will be sharing FLAME with the broadcasting markets in 2018.

Julian, Harry, Rosemary, Jai,
Sophie, Celia and Simon at Fitzrovia Post
Our cast includes Celia Imrie (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Nanny McPhee, Calendar Girls, Phantom Menace, Bridget Jones Diary) and Sophie Thompson (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Gosford Park, Harry Potter), joining Harry Myers and new, young talent, Rosie and Jai.

The show represents an amazing opportunity for broadcasters to take their 8 to 12 year old audiences on exciting journeys through all the galaxy - anywhere and anywhen."

More on Flame on the Visionality website.




Friday, September 29, 2017

Return of the Switching

The Switching is a short Doctor Who story I wrote in 2002, the first piece of fiction I was ever paid for. The book it was published in has long been out of print, but the nice people at Big Finish have just made an audio version available, read by Duncan Wisbey off of Dead Ringers.
(Duncan was also in the last series of Graceless and was responsible for the awesome song.)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Doctor Who Magazine #517

Oops. I'd meant to post some things - about books I've been reading and nonsense in my head - but have been Busy. And now another issue of Doctor Who Magazine is out, when I'd only just mentioned the last one.

It's a little alarming that it marks 30 years of the Seventh Doctor, who I still can't help but think of as "new".

Anyway, as well as all the usual hijinks, issue #517 includes my interview with composer Dominic Glynn about the release of his soundtrack for 1989 story Survival - which I adore.

I'm also interviewed about my new book Whoniversal Records (out next week) and new audio play The Outliers (out next month), and there's a nice review of Paper Dolls (out now).

Oh, and tomorrow me and James Goss will be monsters-in-residence at Uxbridge Library from 6.30 pm. There will be shenanigans and maybe even shobogans.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Doctor Who Magazine #516

The new issue of Doctor Who Magazine - the first under the whip of new editor Marcus Hearn - features interviews with Jodie Whittaker, Russell T Davies and the horrifically clever monster-makers at Millennium FX.

I've also interviewed Nicholas Briggs about providing the voices for the Mondasian Cybermen in the last two episodes of Doctor Who. He also tells me about Peter Capaldi's emotional last day of recording on the forthcoming Christmas special...

Monday, August 21, 2017

Outliers cover

Here's Tom Webster's cover for Doctor Who: The Outliers, out in October:


The TARDIS takes the Doctor, Ben, Polly and Jamie to a flooded underground town on an alien world. The streets are empty. The houses are bare. Not a trace of life.

The miners working here are vanishing. And it isn’t long before the time-travellers are suspected of being responsible for the disappearances. But even the authorities haven’t fully realised the scale of the problem.
There’s something else on this world. Something dragging people away. And it won’t stop until it’s taken them all.

Written By: Simon Guerrier
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Anneke Wills (Polly Wright/Narrator), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon/The Doctor), Elliot Chapman (Ben Jackson), Alistair Petrie (Richard Tipple), Debbie Chazen (Dr Goro), Matilda Ziegler (Chatura Sharma)
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Friday, August 11, 2017

Referencing the Doctor

The new Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition is out in shops, this one devoted to Referencing the Doctor. It's full of wonders, including Alistair McGown's piece on the greatest book about Doctor Who ever, The Doctor Who Monster Book (1975).

I've written a few bits and bobs for the mag, too:

STINFO MANIACS
In the days before Doctor Who Magazine, the devotees of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society went to extraordinary lengths to chart the history of their favourite programme. (Interviews with DWAS's Jan Vincent-Rudzki and Jeremy Bentham.)

MAIL ORDER MAN
For two decades, John Fitton provided an essential service to Doctor Who fans - supplying books and other merchandise direct to their doors.

THE BOOKKEEPER
Doctor Who's account brand manager Edward Russell is the ultimate authority on what goes into a reference book.

Plus Robert Fairclough talks to m'colleagues Steve O'Brien and Ben Morris about our 2016 book, Whographica. Mark Wright talks to BBC Books's publishing director Albert DePetrillo about titles including my The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who and the forthcoming Paper Dolls and The Book of Whoniversal Records. There's even mention of my book on The Evil of the Daleks. And I provided some details about The Writer's Guide produced by the Writers' Guild of Great Britain - edited by Malcolm Hulke and commissioned by David Whitaker.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Doctor Who: the Book of Whoniversal Records

The new issue of Doctor Who Magazine announced that I have a new book out on 28 September. The Book of Whoniversal Records is "a celebration of the greatest achievements from the brilliant, impossible world of Doctor Who."

There's also a lengthy preview of Doctor Who: Paper Dolls, a book by Ben Morris that I've written captions for, with cosplay tips by Christel Dee. That is out on 24 August - but you can get it early at Forbidden Planet in London on Saturday 19 August, when Christel and I will be signing copies.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Evil of the Daleks - a sample from my book


I was very sorry to hear the news last week that Deborah has died. I wrote a brief tribute for the Big Finish website:
"The Doctor Who production team originally wanted Pauline Collins - Samantha Briggs in The Faceless Ones - to stay on as the new companion. When she declined, they quickly promoted a character in the next story, The Evil of the Daleks, so that Victorian orphan Victoria joined the TARDIS. Unlike companions before or since, she wasn't gutsy and wise-cracking and often spent her adventures in abject terror. But perhaps because of that, and definitely because of the way Deborah Watling played her, Victoria enjoyed scenes and stories that would never have suited anyone else. There's the magical moment in The Tomb of the Cybermen where the Doctor finds a quiet moment to comfort her, and speaks of his long-lost family. There are the stink bombs she brews up to battle the Ice Warriors and her screams - so often a cliche of a "weak" Doctor Who girl - are what defeat the evil seaweed in Fury from the Deep. (To help explain how, writer Victor Pemberton devised the sonic screwdriver, so we owe that to Victoria too.)

I got to meet Debbie Watling a handful of times, and we talked about the delights - and frustrations - of playing Victoria. I'll especially remember her telling me about Dimensions in Time, after I'd told her how much I enjoyed it. She explained that under her shawl in that she's hiding her arm being in plaster cast - because she'd fallen off a skateboard."

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Bibbly-Bob the Seal

Today, the Lord of Chaos and I, and our friend Erin, attended the South London Comic and Zine Fair and had a lovely time picking out daft comics and also some nice badges. We also handed out the comic we made this morning - the story and art by his Lordship, the lettering and going-over-his-pencils-in-pen by me.

Here, for your delight, is Bibbly-Bob the Seal and the Shark Adventure, (c) Lord of Chaos and his true servant.





Friday, June 30, 2017

Star Wars Identities

You can read my review of the Star Wars Identities exhibition for the Lancet Psychiatry. And here are some pictures I took as I nosed my way round with Lady Vader.

The first panel...

... accompanied by this snap.

Me, Lady Vader and BB-8.

Han in Carbonite

Bad guy spaceships

More spaceships

Yet more spaceships

Slave I, including dinky Boba Fett

I should like a hat like that

Millennium Falcon, round radar dish

It is your destiny.

The skull of Darth Vader

No, I am your father.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Doctor Who and the Paper Dolls

Praise the company! I've just been sent my first copy of Doctor Who - Paper Dolls, the book I've co-written with Christel Dee and magnificently illustrated by Ben Morris. It's out in shops soon.